Delta Competency Model

The Delta Model working group currently consists of:
Alyson Carrel, Assistant Dean of Law & Technology, Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law
Natalie Runyon, Director & Head of Talent Platform, Legal Executive Institute, Thomson Reuters
Shellie Reid, 2L Michigan State University School of Law


The Delta Model Project


The Delta Model consists of three competency areas crucial to the success of today’s legal professional: legal knowledge & skills, process data & technology, personal effectiveness skills & communication. This model recognizes that 21st century lawyers must start with a base of deep legal knowledge and skills. Building off the notion of a T-shaped Lawyer, lawyers also must understand the impact of technology on their client’s business as well as their own delivery of legal services - A lawyer must appreciate the power of data and analytics, technology tools available, and that processes can be improved and made more efficient. But with the increasing reliance and utilization of technology and machine learning, lawyers also must encompass the emotional intelligence and communication skills to effectively work with clients.

The idea of a Delta Model Lawyer developed out of a conference hosted by Professor Dan Linna at Michigan State’s LegalRnD Lab. During the conference, I worked with Natalie Runyon from Thomson Reuters, Jordan Galvin from Mayer Brown, Shellie Reid a student at Michigan State Law School, and Jesse Bowman, a colleague at Northwestern Law. We all recognized the value of the T-shaped Lawyer and the notion that lawyers must expand their understanding of process, data, and technology. But we also noticed a renewed call to focus on the unique human element in lawyering in response to the innovation and technological advances occurring in legal services. So we flipped the T-shaped Lawyer on its side and added a third component, Personal Effectiveness Skills, to capture the lawyer’s role as counselor and trusted advisor.

Our working group is exploring a research project to measure the value each of these competencies provides in maximizing a lawyer’s success and a client’s satisfaction. In the meantime, I have been developing the model further as a possible education and training tool to inform an individual of the competencies they need to develop based on an analysis of the competencies they bring in to the situation and the competencies unique to the career and position within the legal field they want to achieve. I am exploring how this model can be used by all legal professionals, including our allied professionals who don’t necessarily practice the law, but are part of the legal service industry. Although all legal professionals need competencies in all three areas to succeed, they will need to master these competencies to different degrees based on the unique position they choose. For instance, a lawyer working at a white shoe law firm may have access to more resources in the areas of data, process, and technology. And so while they must be knowledgeable and skilled in these areas, they may not need the same degree of mastery as someone who chooses to work at a legal tech start-up. Another example would be the individual who is moving into a legal operations position at the law firm. This individual still needs to have the legal knowledge and skills, but will need to deepen their mastery of process improvement and data analytics. In order for the model to reflect these differences, it needs to be more dynamic and pluralistic.


In the fall of 2018, I worked with Don Undeen, Manager of Georgetown University’s Maker Hub, to create a new Dynamic Delta Model that introduces a moveable midpoint. This moveable midpoint reflects the different depths to which legal professionals need to master each of these competencies. In this way, the model can retain the brilliance of the T-shaped Lawyer’s differentiation between a mastery of legal knowledge & skills and a broad understanding of data, process, and technology. To create this differentiation, the midpoint can be moved to create the visualization of more or less depth in each competency area. As the midpoint moves, the surface area associated with each set of competencies grows or shrinks, representing the depth to which an individual needs to master each competency. The more surface area created, the greater depth of mastery the professional needs to gain. This model can also be used by legal professionals at any stage in their career. The Dynamic Delta Model can help a law student just determining the competencies needed to pursue a career in Big Law, or it can help a mid-level associate determine what competencies she needs to make a career change.

In order for the Dynamic Delta Model to be most beneficial, we need to research the extent to which different legal professionals need each of these competencies, and create a standardized competency map for different types of careers: Big Law, Legal Solutions Architect, Solo Practitioner, Public Interest Attorney, Legal Operations, General Counsel, etc.

The New Dynamic Delta Model

You can play with this version of the dynamic competency model by clicking on the midpoint of the triangle and moving it around to reflect your own career goals.